Charlie’s feet were aching. It had been a long shift but in half an hour he’d be free to go and have that long, hot shower he’d been promising himself all day.
“Just this, please.”
Charlie looked across the high glass counter to see him there, holding up a farmhouse loaf in one hand and holding out a pound coin in the other. Charlie felt his cheeks grow hot. I must look a state, he wailed inwardly. He – the gorgeous guy – had thrown Charlie by coming in later than usual. He didn’t come in every Tuesday but when he did, it was to pick up something for lunch. A cheese and salad roll or a vegetable pasty. Vegetarian, Charlie mused. He’s got morals or something. Charlie admired the gorgeous guy for this stance and gave up eating meat himself. Now, we have something in common! The idea tickled Charlie every time he thought of it.
“Um,” Charlie resisted the pound coin. He wanted to draw out the transaction for as long as possible without having to leap over the counter and wrestle the gorgeous guy to the floor and tie him up with a roll of plastic bags. “Do you want it sliced?”
“Um, no,” said the gorgeous guy, meeting his gaze. “It’s all right.”
“It’s no trouble,” Charlie smiled, hoping he didn’t look like an axe murderer. “I mean, there’s no charge.”
“Um, no. Thanks.”
“Would you like a bag, then?”
The question seemed to throw the gorgeous guy. The loaf was already bagged in polythene.
“Do you want anything else? I can do you five doughnuts for the price of three.”
“That doesn’t sound like much of a deal.”
“I mean, three for the price of five.” Charlie laughed and was alarmed by how much it sounded like a mouse sliding down violin strings. He clamped his mouth shut.
“Um, no. Thanks.” The gorgeous guy patted his perfect, flat stomach. “Got to watch out.”
There’s nothing there, Charlie wanted to say. You are perfection itself!
But what he actually said was, “Ninety-five pee, please.”
He held out the flat of his hand and the gorgeous guy placed the coin, warm from his own body heat in Charlie’s palm. For the briefest instant, Charlie felt the gorgeous guy’s hot fingers against his skin.
“Thank you!” he breathed, and rang up the sale. “Oh dear,” he glanced in the till drawer, “Got no change.” He leant back and called to the back room, “Sharon! Can I have some five pences out here, please? Customer waiting.”
From the back room came an expletive, muffled by the pie Sharon was devouring.
“It doesn’t matter,” the gorgeous guy smiled. “Put it in the charity box.”
“She’s here now,” Charlie grinned. He sent Sharon a dirty look as she emptied little bags of coins into the cash register.
“Jonathan, is there a problem?”
A tanned woman with sunglasses pushed high on her head had come in. She was heavily pregnant and radiant with it. She rolled her eyes at Charlie.
“I just had a craving for crusty bread.” She snaked a proprietorial arm around the gorgeous Jonathan’s slim waist. “I wondered what was taking him so long.”
“There’s your five pence,” said Charlie, tight-lipped. He slapped the coin on the counter but the happy couple were already slinking out of the shop. Charlie picked up the five-pence piece and slotted it into the head of the dogs-for-the-deaf moneybox.
“He’s nice,” Sharon observed, nudging him with a flabby elbow.
“Who is?” said Charlie, fighting back his tears. “Can’t say I noticed.”